House Bill 778: Amend Innocence Commission Laws

Among the many bills left open by the General Assembly at the end of this most recent session is a change to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.  The only body of its kind in the nation, the Commission reviews claims of actual innocence by prisoners in North Carolina.  HB778 would make several changes to which prisoners are able to receive review from the Commission and how extensively they must prove their innocence.

Under the proposed legislation, the Commission would be prevented from reviewing cases in which the prisoner has pleaded guilty.  Though it is widely believed that some innocent people agree to plead guilty in order to avoid the potential of a harsher punishment, such as life in prison or the death penalty, the bill would take away the power that the Commission currently has to review guilty pleas.

In addition, the law would change the standard of proof required for the Commission to free a prisoner.  As it currently stands, a prisoner must prove his innocence by “clear and convincing evidence” the second highest burden in American jurisprudence.  The bill would raise the burden to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, the highest burden in the justice system.

Currently, the Commission has only set one person free in it’s 5 year history.  Greg Taylor was freed in 2010 after a hearing in which the Commission determined that he was innocent of a murder for which he had been convicted in 1993.